The Man In The Red Cloak, hunched over a wooden table, readied his poison.
With gloved hands, he carefully placed three glass vials upon the table. They clinked lightly together, and he froze.
But the vials did not break. He sighed relief and finished the preparations for his journey.
His lair had been carved deep into the face of a rocky crag. As he walked around his laboratory, his crimson cloak dragged in the damp earth of the cave floor.
He hummed to himself as he toiled.
He wrapped each glass vial in sheepskin. When he was certain there was no risk of breakage, he packed them into his satchel.
Upon the table was one more glass vial.
He grinned devilishly. This was a very different kind of vial.
He sat at his laboratory chair for the last time. The single candle upon the table cast shadows on his face. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
He picked up the vial, removed its cork, and sipped slowly.
As the liquid coated his throat, he laughed. It was a shrill, cackling chortle. Creatures in the dark cave fled its discordant sound.
It was finished.
He threw the glass vial into the dwindling fire at the center of the cave, then walked over to the stone shelves carved into the rock face. He emptied the shelves of dozens of similar vials. There would be need for them in the future.
He packed them away into a separate satchel and placed it upon the wooden table. He would retrieve it later.
He admired his handiwork.
He glanced around the damp laboratory, beaming with satisfaction.
It was rare that a smile crept upon his face.
But after this day, he imagined he would be smiling quite a bit.
The Man In The Red Cloak grimaced at the people surrounding him.
The bustle of townsfolk turned his stomach.
Everywhere he looked he saw the ravenous greed of men. He hated them unconditionally. Men, women, children.
All of them.
As he walked amongst them, he scouted for a secluded spot to remove the vials from his pack.
Behind a tattered, ramshackle pub he saw a small copse of sugar maples. They would provide ample cover.
He shambled behind the pub and walked into the center of the coppice.
From within the protection of the trees, he crouched down and unslung his satchel.
He unpacked its contents and placed the vials in his right hand. With his left, he put the cloth back into the satchel, then left it where it lay. He had no further need of it.
As he emerged from the trees, he heard raucous laughter pouring from within the pub. He grimaced. He couldn’t wait to be rid of them.
He walked toward the center of town. It was a busy market day, and there would be plenty of people milling about.
As he neared the entrance to the market, he saw a young boy begging for scraps. A constable approached the boy and chased him away.
As the boy ran, The Man In The Red Cloak beckoned him over.
The boy approached him cautiously.
He smiled and crouched down to the boy’s eye level.
“He needn’t have done that. Anyone can see you meant no harm. You didn’t, did you?”
The boy shook his head.
“No, of course you didn’t. I have an idea, a way to get him back. It’s kind of naughty, though. Would you like to hear it?”
The boy nodded.
“I think the constable needs to be taught a lesson. There’s no better way than to cause a little bit of a ruckus. Would you like to help me?”
The boy nodded again.
The Man In The Red Cloak clapped his hands together gleefully.
“Wonderful. Here, take this.”
He pulled the vials from his cloak pocket and held one out to the boy.
“This, young man, is a trick scent. Have you ever heard of that before?”
“Yes, sir,” said the boy.
“Good, well that’s what this is. And this one is…I’m almost embarrassed to say it. This is a bottled fart.”
The boy giggled. He stepped forward and took the vial.
The Man In The Red Cloak stood and pointed toward the entrance to the market, where the constable was posted.
“In a moment, I’m going to walk toward the constable and feign an illness. While he’s distracted with me, run into the market, straight to the center. There will be more people. As soon as you get there, toss the vial on the ground. Its contents will do the rest. Can you handle that?”
The boy nodded.
“Sure, I can, sir.”
The Man In The Red Cloak chuckled.
“That’s a good lad.”
He patted the boy on the head and began walking toward the constable. He had a vial in each hand.
As he neared the entrance of the market, he fell to his knees and rolled onto his back.
The constable saw him fall and rushed over. A small crowd of people began to gather around them.
The boy saw his opening and ran into the market, dashing through the surging crowd and heading straight for the center of the market.
The Man In The Red Cloak abruptly stood up and dusted himself off.
“My, my. I don’t know what came over me,” he said.
The crowd around him backed away, confused by the strange sight they’d just beheld.
As they dispersed, a muffled scream came from within the market. A vaporous cloud had formed over its center. The single scream soon turned into many.
He pointed at the spreading cloud. The gathered crowd bolted and ran away in every direction.
He threw a vial into the middle of them, which sent another cloud billowing into the sky.
He had one remaining vial.
He approached the market once more. Most of the people had cleared out of it.
As he neared the entrance, the boy emerged. He was hunched over, sickness already overtaking him. He coughed and heaved as his insides ate themselves. He saw The Man In The Red Cloak. He collapsed and started to cry.
“You did this.”
He drew near the fallen boy, who sobbed between bouts of painful retching.
He crouched and stroked the boy’s feverish forehead.
“Yes. Yes, I did.”
The boy’s shudders had all but stilled. His life was slipping away. His eyes were glassy with tears.
“I want to thank you for helping me. It must’ve felt wonderful, in that moment. Throwing the vial, thinking you were going to make fools of them all. Did it feel good?”
The boy nodded sadly. Tears stained his dirty cheeks.
The Man In The Red Cloak smiled at him.
“Good. I’m glad you had one good moment in your miserable, pathetic life.”
The boy died quietly, those horrible words echoing in his ears.
He closed the boy’s eyes. He stood and walked away from the market.
He found a stone bench and sat upon it.
He sat cross-legged, the final vial clasped in his hand.
The sun was setting.
He held up the vial and watched the sunset through the prism of its suspended liquid center.
The plaza was littered with dead bodies, those who had already succumbed to their illness. Others still milled about, sick and dying and unable to do anything but walk and walk and walk.
Walk as far as they could.
The Man In The Red Cloak smiled. His work was done.
As the sun crested the horizon, he popped the vial into his mouth and began chewing. The glass crunched and sliced, and blood began to seep from between his lips. He kept chewing until the glass was powder. He swallowed the whole, pulpy mess.
His mouth was a calamity.
Blood poured down his chin, and as he felt it upon his neck, he began to laugh a malevolent, horrifying laugh.
Vapor poured from his mouth and puffed upward. He screamed silently as the cloud choked him. He panicked for a moment before reminding himself that he could not perish.
As the sky filled with the light purple of early nightfall, he began walking away from the town proper.
The cloud above trailed him.
He would follow the trail of the dead for a spell, savoring the moment.
Then he would fetch the remaining satchel from his lair. He had much, much more work to do.
And now he had all the time in the world in which to do it.
He loped along toward the main thoroughfare, reeking of blood and filth, taking death with him wherever he went.
SOUNDTRACK 09: “Screen Shot”, Swans
CONTINUE TO CHAPTER EIGHT (Coming Soon.)
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